Elizabeth Nantz

Circle of Life

  On February 27, 2006, every mother's worst nightmare came true for Elisabeth Nantz. As she arrived home from the golf course, her husband, Ron, delivered a message that would forever alter their lives: Their 34-year-old son, Regan, was found dead in his Ft. Worth, Texas home. To make matters worse, according to the coroner, Regan had been dead for more than two months, his body not only badly decomposed, but scavenged by his pet beagle, Petey. The exact cause of death could not be determined, but suicide was ruled out and there was no evidence of foul play. The family has concluded that Regan's death was most likely alcohol related.

According to Elisabeth, after Regan lost his prestigious job with Motorola when the plant closed, he became addicted to computer games and gradually began isolating himself from friends and family. It was not unusual for him to be out of touch, and he seemed fine when she visited. On the advice of her therapist, Elisabeth was giving him the space he requested. "There was no way for us to know how serious his condition was," she said. "When you lose somebody, you start thinking, 'What could I have done?' I'm sure I'll go to my grave wondering."

Elisabeth's immediate reaction to the news of the scavenging was to put Petey down. But as she and Ron drove to Texas to make final arrangements, a conversation with a friend prompted her to reconsider. After all, Petey had been Regan's companion for nine years, and the dog only followed his natural instinct to survive. When she hung up, she resolved to bring her son's beloved pet home-a decision that has been a saving grace.

Today, Petey snuggles beside her in her favorite blue chair by the window, overlooking the memorial garden where Regan's remains are scattered. "I enjoy sitting here with him in the morning, having my coffee, looking at the birds," said Elisabeth. "It's like having Regan right beside me."

Petey provides comfort by allowing her to slow down, says Elisabeth. "When you go through grief, it is a wonderful opportunity to understand yourself," she explained. "I've become more introspective, really focusing on what I need, what I love and how I want to live the rest of my life."

  There are many lessons in Regan's death, the greatest, perhaps, to live in the moment. "I really want to squeeze as much out of life as possible" said Elisabeth. "I'm learning to trust life, allow it to unfold and believe that everything is going to be okay."

Elisabeth's current calling is to use the gifts born of her pain. "I think part of the human process is being able to give to somebody else," she said. A former school teacher and later a corporate trainer for Bell South, she uses her teaching skills as a mentor at the Hilton Head School for the Creative Arts. When the school counselor suggested that the special needs children would enjoy the dog, a light bulb came on.

Recently certified by Therapy Dogs International, Petey can now go into schools, nursing homes, hospitals and other places where people can benefit from the unconditional love and acceptance of a pet. "This is the perfect thing," said Elisabeth. "He has been such a healing agent to me, so why not let him do this for others? It's like coming full circle."